- The Washington Times - Tuesday, April 29, 2003

SAVANNAH (AP) The Iraqis didn't want Capt. Jack Rich's company of Army Rangers to leave, but he had another mission waiting for him at home.
"My daughter said she wanted to ride a horse," said Capt. Rich, one of 250 soldiers of the 1st Battalion, 75th Ranger Regiment, who returned to Hunter Army Airfield early yesterday after nearly two months in Iraq.
After a 15-hour flight from Kuwait via Rome, the Rangers received a rousing, flag-waving welcome at 1:30 a.m. from wives and girlfriends, parents and squealing children up long past their bedtimes.
Among them was Capt. Rich's 2-year-old daughter, a red ribbon in her hair to match her dress, wrapping herself around her father's leg and chattering excitedly, "Daddy flew on a plane."
Capt. Rich hasn't seen much of his daughter, whose name he declined to give, in the past 14 months. This was the Ranger battalion's third combat deployment since last year; the previous two were in Afghanistan.
"A lot of the people we ran into were real thankful," Capt. Rich, 33, said of the Iraqis. "They were afraid of what would happen if the American soldiers left. They were begging us not to leave."
In Iraq, members of the elite Ranger battalion served as guards for the team that rescued wounded U.S. prisoner of war Pfc. Jessica Lynch from a hospital in the city of Nasiriyah.
The battalion's 600-plus soldiers also were dispatched on missions to destroy Iraq's desert air defenses. One of their most grueling assignments was to recover the bodies of nine U.S. soldiers killed in the ambush that resulted in Pfc. Lynch's capture.
"We had to dig them out by hand," said battalion commander Lt. Col. Mike Kershaw, choking back tears. "You don't exactly feel a sense of elation, but you know it means something. It helps bring closure to the families."
Soldiers and family members said the Iraq deployment was by far their toughest. E-mails and even phone calls to home were common from Afghanistan, but almost nonexistent from Iraq.
Janet Lundquist hadn't heard from her husband, Master Sgt. Troy Lundquist, since she said goodbye to him in March. The hospital delivery-room nurse wasn't about to miss his homecoming.
"I'm on call right now. Hopefully there aren't any more babies being born tonight," she said, clutching a sign she had made for their 2 -year-old daughter, Carolyne. It read: "Come Get Me Daddy."

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